Unifying Antitrust Enforcement for the Digital Age

41 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2020

Date Written: August 7, 2020


As the digital revolution continues to transform competition among businesses, U.S. antitrust enforcement has struggled to remain effective. The U.S. has long depended on a system of dual antitrust enforcement through both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Modern technology has greatly exacerbated existing structural deficiencies of the two-headed approach, at times resulting in deadlock. The two agencies approach new antitrust issues generated by computational technologies differently and fight over who should lead key investigations, leading to economic uncertainty in the most important business sectors. These enforcement disagreements can also hobble the government’s response to significant national security issues emerging from the interplay of technological competition among private companies and among nation states. Further, dual enforcement hinders government action in the newly critical area of data privacy: The agency responsible, the FTC, suffers a mission overload of enforcing both antitrust and privacy, which can work against each other.

The best solution is for the DOJ to become the sole antitrust enforcement agency. First, antitrust decisions, especially in the technology arena, directly affect geopolitical competition and international relations, a province constitutionally assigned to the President. It therefore makes more sense for the DOJ, which, unlike the FTC, is controlled by the President, to direct antitrust enforcement as one piece of a larger foreign policy. Second, consolidating enforcement in the DOJ would also allow the FTC to concentrate on enforcing privacy law, free from its sometimes-conflicting antitrust mandate. Dual enforcement of antitrust law should yield to single agency enforcement, with the FTC enforcing privacy and the DOJ enforcing antitrust.

Keywords: Antitrust, Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, Technology, Privacy, Foreign Policy

JEL Classification: k10, k19, k20, k22

Suggested Citation

McGinnis, John and Sun, Linda, Unifying Antitrust Enforcement for the Digital Age (August 7, 2020). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 20-20, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3669087 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3669087

John McGinnis (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-3235 (Phone)

Linda Sun

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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